News Releases

For immediate release June 9, 2000

Jane Shackell, Q.C. address — on the occasion of the elevation of Mr. Justice Donald Brenner to  Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia

Check against delivery.

Thank you.

Chief Justice Brenner, Chief Justice McEachern, my Lords and Ladies members of this Court, Attorney-General Petter, family and friends of Chief Justice Brenner:

It is a great honour and privilege for me to appear before you today on behalf of the Benchers and members of the Law Society of British Columbia. It is always a pleasure to take part in these distinguished ceremonies and today is no exception as we recognize the accomplishments and success of our new Chief Justice, Donald Brenner.

Chief Justice Brenner has always achieved great heights in his endeavours in life. This is true of his career in our legal profession, as it was of his studies at university and his former career as a helicopter and airline pilot. He will continue to be outstanding as top navigator of the B.C. Supreme Court.

One of his former law partners told me that in an early display of Chief Justice Brenner’s tendency to excel, he obtained a helicopter license at age 16, as the nation’s youngest pilot. This is obviously a remarkable achievement. He graduated from UBC law school in the top ten of the class of 1970, a crowd which included Bob Diebolt and Joost Blom.

I have heard the story of a project undertaken by some members of that class who felt it was unfair that only one student would receive the "gold medal." Their solution was the "Gold Medallist Club," in which every student in their section received a gold medal, courtesy of the Chief Justice and some of his friends. The medals turned out to be less than 24 karat gold. I understand that at their recent class reunion, the Chief Justice received their First Annual Chief Justice Award, which again demonstrates the affinity of that class for awards.

I understand that the tendency to over-achieve runs in the Chief’s family; his father is a world champion over-80 tennis player.

In any event, the Chief Justice articled at Shulman, Tupper, Worrall, Johnson & Laxton. After his call to our bar in 1971, he went into partnership with Brian Abraham, as Brenner & Abraham.

Throughout his law school career, articles and during his practice, Chief Justice Brenner continued work as a pilot, of helicopters, planes and eventually as captain of a 737. His colleagues and friends marveled at the way he was able to keep up first his studies and then his law-related commitments to his clients, while still maintaining his demanding schedule as a pilot. The combination of law with flying served him well, as he developed those two demanding disciplines into a highly-respected niche practice in aeronautical and insurance law.

His former partner Brian Abraham told me that his colleagues always knew Chief Justice Brenner had one of the best available analytical minds, and was destined for the bench. He also told me that the Chief Justice was an excellent businessman. Apparently Ean Maxwell joined the firm at one point, to practice family law, and the Chief Justice followed the costs of that practice with great interest. He was often heard to remark that the greater part of paper costs for the firm was for Kleenex for Mr. Maxwell’s clients upon seeing his bills.

As a lawyer, Mr. Justice Brenner enjoyed a reputation as the province’s leading practitioner in his field. J.J. Camp, who has practised in the same area for many years, told me yesterday that while in practice Mr. Justice Brenner saved his clients a great deal of time, energy and money by focusing quickly on the issues, and avoiding unnecessary battling or delay in the courts. J.J. recalled that Mr. Justice Brenner was "a prince to deal with," and told me that he misses Mr. Justice Brenner dearly. However, on a more negative note, J.J. also told me that the Chief Justice is not good at golf.

The Chief Justice has been described as "peripatetic," and a brief review of his resume supports this. During his years in practice, the Chief Justice was Chair of the Air Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association in B.C., a director of the Air Transport Association of Canada, a director of the B.C. Aviation Council, and a director of the Lawyers’ Inn. He participated in the Law Society’s governance as a member of the Credentials Committee. In addition, the Chief Justice found the time to be called to the bars of the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alberta. He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1987.

With his experience in managing a full and disparate schedule of practice, flying and these extra professional activities, Chief Justice Brenner is surely suitably prepared for the administrative, organizational and multi-tasking skills required of him in his new position.

In June, 1992, Mr. Justice Brenner was appointed to this Court, and has presided over some extremely challenging litigation matters. Throughout, his Lordship has been lauded for his legal acumen, compassion, integrity, and ability to relate to people from all walks of life. He is known as a judge with particular skill at resolving disputes: finding solutions and providing opinions in which parties and their counsel have complete confidence. As Chief Justice he will continue the work of Chief Justices before him to make our justice system more accessible, empowering and understood by the citizens it serves.

Chief Justice Brenner is also known for his interest — and proficiency — in emerging computer and technology issues. Increasing use of technology in the courts — from computer-assisted research and electronic filing of documents to video-conferencing and litigation management systems — is an important way to improve delivery of justice to British Columbians. Chief Justice Brenner co-founded this Court’s Information Technology Committee and in 1999, he became Chair of the B.C. Supreme Court’s Litigation Management Committee. His Lordship will continue the Court’s leadership role in encouraging the use of technology in the courtroom, and we at the Law Society look forward to working with him on the emerging, technology-related issues surrounding access to justice.

There are many other excellent qualities of our new Chief that will be mentioned by others who have spoken or will speak here today.

To all present, I say, on behalf of the Law Society of British Columbia and our 10,000 members, that we congratulate Chief Justice Brenner on this memorable day. Your Lordship, we wish you well and give you our full support as you take on your very important responsibilities as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

Thank you.